Samma No Aji
SAMMA NO AJI
(An Autumn Afternoon)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Production: Shochiku Co.; Agfacolor, 35mm; running time: 113 minutes. Released November 1962, Japan.
Producer: Shizuo Yamanouchi; screenplay: Yasujiro Ozu and Kogo Noda; photography: Yushun (or, Yuharu) Atsuta; editor: Yoshiyasu Manamura; sound: Yoshisaburo Senoo; art director: Tatsuo Hamada; music: Takanobu Saito.
Cast: Chisu Ryu (Shuhei Hirayama); Shima Iwashita (Michiko Hirayama); Shin-ichiro Mikami (Kazuo Hirayama); Keiji Sada (Koichi Hirayama); Mariko Okada (Akiko Hirayama); Nobuo Nakamura (Shuzo Kawai); Kuniko Miyake (Nobuko Kawai); Ryuji Kita (Susumu Horie); Eijiro Tono (Sakuma); Teruo Yoshida (Miura).
Sato, Tadao, Ozu Yasujiro no Geijutsu (The Art of Yasujiro Ozu), Tokyo, 1971.
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* * *
The title of Yasujiro Ozu's last film, Samma no aji (An Autumn Afternoon), literally "taste of autumn swordfish," symbolizes the ordinary in life, and represents another contemplative study of the serenity of Japanese middle-class family life.
Ozu's characteristic stylistic techniques are evident here. The film begins with a series of shots of chimneys from different angles, and proceeds to the corridor of an office building preparing our introduction to a company executive, Mr. Hirayama—an editing pattern common in Ozu's work. Another characteristic Ozu device is the use of a number of shots of restaurant and bar signs appearing for several seconds before the story inside the restaurant develops. We soon lose track of how often we witness the character enjoying a conversation over food and drink. All of these scenes are very deliberately composed, including the placement of food, dishes and beer bottles. The movements of the characters seem carefully choreographed throughout these scenes. We are shown in detail a high-school reunion, casual gossip between intimate friends, and discussions of household topics among couples and family members.
The film's central plot is the arrangement of the marriage of Hirayama's daughter, Michiko, further developed by other marriage-related subplots. For example, Hirayama's old high school teacher and his old maid daughter make Hirayama realize his duty to arrange Michiko's marriage despite his own loneliness which will surely continue. We also see Michiko's older brother's trifling marriage problems; Michiko's unsuccessful love for her brother's friend; Hirayama's friend's happy remarriage to a younger wife; Hirayama's secretary's marriage; and Hirayama's encounter with a barmaid who reminds him of his deceased wife.
Subplots such as these are developed in lengthy, carefully edited conversation scenes. Ozu frequently uses frontal, close-up shot-reverse shots of characters' faces (occasionally including unmatching eyelines). Indeed, the film's narrative is developed more in these conversations and less by direct actions. Each dialogue is extremely concise, often omitting subjects and objects in the sentences, making it impossible to translate directly in the English subtitles.
Ozu is obsessed with showing the empty space after any action takes place. After Michiko leaves her house on the wedding day, a series of shots showing her empty room during the day and at night are used to accentuate the emptiness after her departure. Particularly, the close-up shots of the big mirror and the vacated stool force us to realize that she, sitting there in her wedding gown just moments before, is now gone. The pathos is suggested by the systematic arrangement of shots of inanimate objects.
Through the depiction of the non-dramatic atmosphere of peaceful human relationships between good-willed people, the film conveys the feeling of the quiet realization of the loneliness in life. It is deftly symbolized by the sequences at the bar where Hirayama drinks, listening nostalgically to the Japanese Navy march and then, at home, drinks water silently in the kitchen at the end of the corridor.
The audience and critics appreciated the distinctive loneliness of Ozu's world all the more for the light and even humorous nature of many of An Autumn Afternoon's individual scenes.